Social media. It’s grown into global proportions by feeding on our collective nosiness, insecurity and vanity. According to Statista, YouTube and Instagram amassed over 2 billion and 1 billion active users respectively in 2020. Relative newcomer TikTok, which is targeted at the Gen Z audience, is steadily catching up with 800 million active users in the same period.

All that considered, it’s little wonder that society has started and continues to place emphasis on appearances. It’s simple: the better you look, the more attention you get. Fitness and fashion social media accounts have long been popular “genres” on social media because their visual impact – be it a thirst trap post or the flaunting of a pair of Dior x Air Jordan 1 – is instantaneous.

Eyeballs are, however, shifting towards skin care and grooming in recent times, and bringing a huge boom to the skincare market as a result. In fact, Statista reports that the global skincare sector expanded by 41.8 per cent between 2012 and 2019, and is predicted to be valued at $189 billion by 2025.

Artwork: Joan Tai
Artwork: Joan Tai

This is perhaps because people connect grooming with the idea of self-care and wellness. For instance, by using products with specific formulas, you can address imperfections like acne, dryness, or wrinkles. By doing so, skin care accords consumers the power to erase the source of their insecurities in the comfort of their own homes. Details like scents, textures and application techniques also help with the process of dissipating stress. In troubling times like these, skin care and grooming are seen more as necessary coping mechanisms rather than simply self-indulgence.

Additionally, skin care is tagged with a slew of scientific, medical, and dermatological studies that are useful and applicable across all genders. It’s easy to believe marketing gimmicks plastered all over product packaging. But it is through skin care education that consumers get smarter in discerning what works and what doesn’t. Information like this doesn’t come by instinctively for everyone. And that is where skinfluencers, otherwise known as skincare influencers, enter the picture.

Key Influencers

“Personally, I like Lab Muffin (@labmuffinbeautyscience), Gothamista (@gothamista), and The Eco Well (@theecowell),” shared Dr Rachel Ho, GP with an interest in aesthetic practices at La Clinic.

“Lab Muffin is able to put her points across objectively. She also uses her PhD in chemistry to debunk common skincare myths logically,” she explained. “Sometimes, chemists and doctors have different points of view on the same subject. What The Eco Wall tries to do is bridge those claims, which I appreciate. Apart from giving objective reviews and sharing useful information, what I like about Gothamista is that she’s very calm and composed, unlike a lot of YouTubers out there, who can be brash but not add much to what information is already available.”

We agree with her list and comments. To add to that list, we also enjoy content by Beauty Within (@beautywithinofficial). We don’t deny that their content is women-skewed, what with the bright colours, cutesy fonts and animations. But the hosts, Rowena Tsai and Felicia Lee, don’t shy away from going into details (ingredient mechanisms, scientific jargon, etc) and breaking it down for us to understand easily.

I’m Not So Sure About That

On the flip side, there are crowd favourites who have left us scratching our heads. With over a million Instagram followers and 3.7 million YouTube subscribers, you would expect Hyram Yarbro (@skincarebyhyram) to give a little more than what has been done to death in the skincare domain.

It’s also not a little disconcerting that the 24-year-old isn’t trained medically, but still refers to himself as a “specialist”. Granted, he may have a background in skincare, based on his experience as a salesperson at a beauty counter, and a keen personal interest in the subject. And he claims to put in extensive research from credible sources like scientific journals for his posts. But it is still misleading, at best. He has also been quick to dismiss products with alcohol (potentially drying) and low pH (potentially irritating) among others, without first having considered the roles that these ingredients play within their respective products.

Yarbro, alongside other skinfluencers like Cassandra Bankson (@cassandrabankson), also has the habit of uploading clickbait content. Such include “Skincare Reactions”, “The Truth About” and “Products I Love From Brands I Hate” types of videos. While we appreciate that they’re trying to disrupt complacency or promote openness within the industry with honest comments backed up by credible evidence, it can come across as biased personal opinions that conveniently put a spin on common knowledge to suit their narrative. While it’s possible that they mean well, it’s also possible that they’re merely banking on society’s hunger for drama to garner views. After all, nothing gets more reactions than controversy.

Gimmicks Or Solutions?

Speaking of controversy, there are questionable practices that skinfluencers explore and promote. One example is using a derma roller to fix acne scars. This has been mentioned by skinfluencers like James Welsh (@james_s_welsh) and Susan Yara (@susanyara) on her Mixed Makeup (@mixedmakeup) YouTube channel.

The technique involves using a handheld tool with a wheel covered in microneedles. One is supposed to apply light pressure while rolling the wheel across the face, to “safely” damage the skin surface in order to promote blood flow and stimulate collagen. The micro-perforations are supposed to help the skin absorb serums better, thus enhancing product efficacy. Where safety is concerned, Yara and Welsh stress on the importance of being gentle and disinfecting the tool with alcohol to prevent complications. While there has been praise in the comments (which may or may not be organic), experts tend to believe otherwise.

  “First up, microneedling is an archaic practice,” clarified Dr Teo Wan Lin, dermatologist at TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre. “The problem with leaving these tools in untrained hands is that it raises the risk of infection.”

She insists that microneedling is best performed by a trained individual, and suggests using more efficient services like laser treatments that can be performed in a safe, clinical environment.

“And if you’re simply looking to improve product absorption, exfoliating with acids works just as well,” she adds.

Another popular topic is home-use LED devices. Brands such as Skin Inc, Dr Dennis Gross and LG have produced masks and tools that harness the therapeutic benefits of LED lights. This technology was first developed by Quantum Devices for NASA in 1993 to allow astronauts to boost plant growth for food while travelling in space. Scientists noticed that skin lesions healed faster when exposed to red LED light, and this observation sparked skincare companies to produce LED devices to promote everything from anti-ageing benefits to acne prevention.

“Accessible evidence is available only for in-clinic machines with the ability to generate high wattage energy delivery. The efficacy of at-home LED devices is extremely limited, as they can’t generate even a fraction of what is required for significant improvement,” she elaborates. “The low power is of course deliberately designed for safety, but even so, at-home LED devices may prove risky for those who have underlying photosensitivity.”

Further Comments

“We understand that content creators want to push the envelope, whether or not it is in the interest of education. But sometimes, they need to be more discerning in the products and practices that they promote. Just because some methods work for some people, doesn’t always mean that they’re safe, especially when you consider a lack of understanding in these methods. The public must understand that risks are par for the course when they pick up unconventional tips from uncertified sources,” said Dr Ho on the subject of skinfluencers.

“Credibility isn’t something to take for granted,” Dr Teo said. “Social media is difficult to regulate. So it’s up to the discretion of the audience, what they wish to take away from these figures.”

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Of course, there will also be things that skinfluencers can work more on. One of them is diversity, especially in the local scene, as Dr Ho pointed out.

“Diversity is not just a buzzword. It’s the reality of the world we live in. One of the things I’ve noticed is that many of these skincare influencers are Chinese. It’s not anyone’s fault, since Singapore statistically has more people of this race. What I’d certainly like to see is more people with darker skin tones stepping up to take the stage. It is strange for me to speak about Halal skincare, for example, since I cannot fully empathise with difficulties in finding suitable products in this segment. Perhaps a Muslim grooming or beauty influencer would be more relevant then,” she explained.

“I also feel that there should be more collaborations between medically trained experts and skinfluencers,” she added. Dr Teo agreed, but added that such crossovers need to be synergestic, and with the healthy intention of educating the public. AM

written by.
Syed Zulfadhli
Syed Zulfadhli knows a thing or two... thousand about skincare and grooming.

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